James Rado, the actor, playwright, and composer best known for co-writing the seminal 1967 musical Hair, died Tuesday (June 21st). He was 90.
The news was announced by Rado’s longtime friend, publicist Merle Frimark (via the New York Times), who said the Broadway legend died of cardiorespiratory arrest in Manhattan surrounded by his family.
James Alexander Radomski was born on January 23rd, 1932 in Los Angeles. He was raised between Rochester, New York, and Washington, DC, and went on to study Speech and Drama at the University of Maryland. In college, he authored his first musicals, inspired by the likes of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, and Cole Porter, as well as pop music from the 1930s onward. After spending two years post-graduation serving in the US Navy, Rado moved to New York City in 1956 to pursue acting.
According to Frimark, writing a Broadway musical had been Rado’s dream since adolescence. His accomplished that goal with Marathon ’33, which debuted on Broadway in 1963. The following year, he met fellow actor and songwriter Gerome Ragni, with whom he quickly became friends and began writing Hair.
Ragni gave the Hair script to producer Joseph Papp during a chance encounter on a train. Papp was sold, and chose the musical to open his newly-founded Public Theater. Hair made its worldwide debut on October 17th, 1967, under the direction of Gerald Freedman, and ran at the Public Theater for eight weeks.
With an advanced script and 17 new actors, Hair went on to open at Broadway’s Biltmore Theatre on on April 29th, 1968. With Rado and Ragni starring as well, the show became a cultural phenomenon, running for 1,750 performances. Considered especially controversial at the time for its depictions of recreational drug use, sexuality, and the anti-Vietnam War movement (not to mention that infamous nude scene), Hair spawned over a dozen worldwide productions and a 1979 film adaptation.
Songs from the Hair soundtrack have been covered by a hefty list of big-name artists including Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand, Nina Simone, The Lemonheads, and Diana Ross. The Broadway cast album spent 13 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Hair‘s original Broadway cast was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical, and took home a Grammy for Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album. Its 2009 revival won the Tony for Best Revival.
Rado was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009. He remained active until his death, working on a handful of other shows and overseeing worldwide productions of Hair.